GMD Studios Kickstarter Spotlight

We love to find and fund exceptional projects on Kickstarter. Check back each week to see who we have discovered!

The Time Tribe by Karen Wehner & Lucas Johnson

This week our spotlight discovered a great idea combining time travel, history, and adventuring gaming.  How could we say no?

The Time Tribe is an episodic game for kids 8 to 13 that does more than just occupy their time; it teaches them in ways that naturally stimulates their will to learn.  And it’s all wrapped up in a great transmedia package. Really, just wait till you hear about the Roman Key Rings they are giving out!  We’re proud to send our $100 to Karen and Lucas to help the project get off the ground and they were nice enough to submit to a patented Spotlight interview.  Take it away, guys!

Can you give us a more detailed sense of where you guys come from?  You mentioned being involved in digs, where at? What are some discoveries you have made? What other games and transmedia properties has Lucas been involved in?

KAREN: I can’t say I’ve excavated at the Pyramids or anywhere quite so exotic, but I’ve had thrilling moments all the same, out in the field and in the archives.  As an historical archaeologist specializing in early modern (ca 1450-1900) Europe and North America, I’ve worked on English and English colonial sites, chiefly the first permanent English settlement in the New World at Jamestown, VA, and the seedy underbelly of Victorian London. People are often surprised (and disappointed!) to learn that field archaeology is actually pretty tedious when you’re not doing it Indiana Jones style!  It takes a long time to painstakingly shave back layers of soil, draw and map everything you find in three dimensions, bag it all up and try to make some sense of it back in the lab.

I’ve had some amazing “ah ha!” moments in the field for sure – perhaps the most exciting being a burned Revolutionary War warehouse where we found carbonized but perfectly preserved piles of coffee beans, fruit pits, pins, and other commodities exactly as they had been stored, in neat rows. At another site, there was a beautiful gold wedding band that came out of a trash pit — engraved with the couple’s names and some sweet platitude. The crew had fun debating whether it was lost or chucked away in a fit of anger!  

But for me, the most satisfying part of the process has always been the slow weaving together of all the pieces of information, including any relevant historical evidence I can find, to finally arrive at a new understanding of some slice of everyday life in the past. Because otherwise it’s just a bunch of stuff you’ve pulled out of the ground or the archives.  And that’s really the philosophy underlying The Time Tribe. Rather than a random selection of things people tend to associate with specific cultures (for example mummies, pyramids, and pharaohs in Egypt), there’s a context for every artifact, setting, and person players will encounter on their adventures, providing all the pieces of information needed to stitch together their own personal experience of a specific time and place. 

LUCAS: Besides being a pretty active member of the transmedia community internationally — blogging, attending conferences, founding the Transmedia Vancouver Meetup, etc. — I started my own personal project called Azrael’s Stop over a year ago, just to play in the area. I’m currently working for indie game developer Lazy 8 Studios — whose game Cogs was part of the Portal 2 Potato Sack ARG — as the writer for an upcoming transmedia video game called Extrasolar. I’ve also consulted on a few projects here in Vancouver. 

I loved the little detail about keys being actual rings Romans wore because of their lack of toga pockets.  It really makes history come alive.  Can we expect more detail like this in the game? 

KAREN: The entire game is built at that level of historical accuracy, to provide thought-provoking and entertaining windows into the realities of everyday life in the past, while highlighting echoes in the present day. And so the museum home base that players customize throughout the game is meticulously furnished with authentic objects representing the global time spectrum, and time traveling players can expect to share the “pizza’’ baked on shields by Trojan soldiers when they weren’t ganging up on the Greeks, and experience firsthand the surprising origin of the modern toilet, in ancient India. And that’s just the littlest teaser for you…

What sort of PR and outreach are you planning to take this out to a wider audience?  

LUCAS: This Kickstarter is sort of the beginning of our outreach plan — by putting ourselves out there and starting to showcase our vision, our passion, and the production values of the game itself, we hope to create a bedrock community of evangelists that can be our foundation going forward. Beyond that, we have a PR/marketing plan to reach all the communities we think will be interested in The Time Tribe, namely parents, educators, gamers, storytellers, and general fans.

 We’ve formed some strong partnerships already in the Harry Potter Alliance and World Leadership Foundation, and we’re looking at more. We’ll be putting together some great little packages to send to friends and influencers to invite them into our world as well, and hope to gather buzz during beta testing this summer and leading up to launch in September, hopefully with traditional outreach and marketing — but a lot of the budget for that depends on our success with this Kickstarter campaign.

Have you contacted any educational centers about using it in a more formal educational setting?

KAREN: While we’d love to see The Time Tribe used in formal educational settings, it’s been designed primarily as a fun game for home and leisure use, capitalizing on gaming disciplines kids love already, but with great educational content as a bonus. 

One of the key problems teachers face in getting non-traditional media such as games into classrooms is the prevailing focus on assessment and standardized testing. Much of the day in a typical American classroom is spent “teaching to tests,” meaning that materials must be benchmarked to measurable, mandated targets. As storytellers, we really didn’t want to be limited in that way.

(Editors note: Check out how a previous Spotlight winner, David Hunter is trying to address these issues.)

But we take the educational value of the game seriously, and as such, one of our Advisory Board members, Laura Fleming, is a NJ middle school teacher who uses cutting-edge edtech and transmedia storytelling techniques in her classroom.  Laura’s helping us to finetune the educational content and optimize formats for our target age group. We’re also partnering with Laura on a broader initiative to create a blueprint for transmedia education, and co-led a DIYDays NY panel on the topic this past March. Follow our progress on this initiative under the hashtag #tmlearn!

You speak alot about giving kids choices in the game.  Choices that aren’t clearly right or wrong.  Can you talk more about what made you go in this direction of l  earning?  Can you give an example of the this type of choice in game?

KAREN: Research shows that old-fashioned didactic teaching – with the teacher dispensing knowledge from the front of the room — doesn’t promote learning as well as approaches that actually engage kids, by giving them a say in what they are doing, when they are doing it, and how.  Nor as well as approaches that provide kids with the tools they need to make critical decisions on their own, rather than handing ‘correct’ answers over and then testing for factual retention.  

From the start we wanted to build this philosophy into the narrative structure of The Time Tribe, and so each episode is built around a core conflict or problem that players will experience from both sides, eventually having to choose one or the other, with the outcome affected accordingly.  It’s a really effective device for presenting cross-cultural interactions with all the complexity they deserve, rather than falling back on stereotypical identifications of ‘good’ guys vs ‘bad’ guys. So, for example, we can show that in a colonial situation, the colonizers were probably not entirely evil, the colonized were not entirely victims, and cross-cultural influence is always a two-way street, even in a situation where one group is dominated by another.

Finally, I gotta ask, what’s your favorite fictional time travel device?

LUCAS: The TARDIS has to be on that list. The Epoch from Chrono Trigger — it flies, too! The Time-Turner from Harry Potter. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the DeLorean.

KAREN: I’d have to go with that old wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The vivid descriptions of the transition from scratchy coats to frosty evergreen boughs and cold winter air has stuck with me since childhood – pure magic!  And I’ll contrast high literature with the phone booth of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Because I still love that stupid movie.

Thanks guys and we encourage our readers to check out Time Tribe’s Kickstarter page to learn more and help get this great project off the ground!


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